News: The Doctor and the Scold

Commissioner election is chance for changing Hamilton County

 
David Sorcher


Dr. Jean Siebenaler (left) debates Phil Heimlich (right).



It was inevitable that Phil Heimlich would try to paint Dr. Jean Siebenaler as a liberal threat to Hamilton County's morals; the only surprise is he waited this long.

The issue comes up when Siebenaler talks about the flight of young adults from Greater Cincinnati.

"Twenty percent of our 22- to 35-year-old age population has declined during the 1990s," Siebenaler says. "During the '90s we weren't attracting in the number of people either that we were used to attracting in."

Siebenaler, the Democrat candidate for the board of county commissioners, moved here with her family in the early 1990s to practice medicine. One of the main attractions was that it was a "family-friendly" place, she says.

She fears that's less the case now.

"When we lose out on young people, we are losing out on the very people who are starting families," Siebenaler says. "We want to be welcoming diverse talent because that diversity and that talent spawns further talent and energy."

But Heimlich, the Republican candidate, sees the issue as Siebenaler's excuse for liberal social engineering.

"She says the way to attract (young people) is to have a countywide gay rights policy," Heimlich says. "My feeling is there are adequate protections in the Constitution and I don't support special rights."

Gambling on a morals campaign
It was fear of Heimlich using the issue in his campaign that led some human rights groups to postpone a repeal effort for Article 12 of the Cincinnati City Charter. Approved by voters in 1993 as Issue 3, the charter amendment bars city council from passing legislation guaranteeing equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Siebenaler knows the county commissioners can't change the city charter. But she believes the anti-gay amendment is wrong and it adversely affects the entire county.

"As a physician, I believe homosexuality is not a choice but that it's biologically inherited," she says.

Heimlich says the charter amendment is not the reason people are moving.

"I have not heard one person say, 'I'm leaving Westwood because of Issue 3,' " he says.

People are moving from the city because of crime and blight, according to Heimlich. He says the public is disgusted that city leaders don't support the police.

"They're going there for quiet, safe neighborhoods," he says.

What people want, Heimlich says, are good housing, good services and clean neighborhoods.

But he brings another G word into the conversation. Siebenaler, he points out, supports casino gambling in Ohio.

"I'm not sure turning Cincinnati into Atlantic City is going to bring families here," Heimlich says.

Legalizing casinos is something only the state can do, according to Siebenaler.

"I certainly don't want to build my county around casino gambling, but I don't see it as the deterioration of civil society as we know it," she says.

Many of her patients have talked about gambling on riverboats in Indiana for recreation, according to Siebenaler. Their money left Ohio with them.

Siebenaler says gambling in other forms is already taking place in Ohio, from church Bingo games to the state lottery.

"Why should we as a government say, 'No, we're not going to do that because we think we're contributing to you going to hell'?" she says. "That's government intruding on private decisions of people. What happened to the personal responsibility that we are always hearing about from the other party?"

Even the question of receiving funds from the state of Ohio becomes a kind of moral issue in Heimlich's hands.

Siebenaler proposes more active pursuit of state funds for local needs.

"We have a state legislature that's not urban friendly," she says. "We need more advocates from the local level to go up the chain and advocate for some of these local issues. We need the state legislators from our area to advocate for home health care for seniors."

But Heimlich says the county shouldn't be going to the state begging for money.

"That's what's called the 'entitlement mentality,' " he says.

He thinks the state spent too much during good times and, like local government, now has to cut back.

"What I say is why don't you try to live within your means without going out and asking somebody to bail you out," Heimlich says. "They're cutting back for the same reason the city is cutting back."

He believes the county has allowed itself to become too dependent on the state for funds. According to Heimlich, the state contributes 10 percent of the county's general fund.

"The county is like an addict that has to go cold turkey," he says. "Why is it that the families in this area have to tighten their belts but the government never can?"

Yes, it is brain surgery
The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office is the legal counsel for the county commissioners. Heimlich is a former assistant prosecutor.

Recent revelations about the death of Roger Owensby Jr. have convinced Siebenaler that former Cincinnati Police Officer Robert Jorg should be retried, she says (see

 
David Sorcher


Dr. Jean Siebenaler (left) debates Phil Heimlich (right).



It was inevitable that Phil Heimlich would try to paint Dr. Jean Siebenaler as a liberal threat to Hamilton County's morals; the only surprise is he waited this long.

The issue comes up when Siebenaler talks about the flight of young adults from Greater Cincinnati.

"Twenty percent of our 22- to 35-year-old age population has declined during the 1990s," Siebenaler says. "During the '90s we weren't attracting in the number of people either that we were used to attracting in."

Siebenaler, the Democrat candidate for the board of county commissioners, moved here with her family in the early 1990s to practice medicine. One of the main attractions was that it was a "family-friendly" place, she says.

She fears that's less the case now.

"When we lose out on young people, we are losing out on the very people who are starting families," Siebenaler says. "We want to be welcoming diverse talent because that diversity and that talent spawns further talent and energy."

But Heimlich, the Republican candidate, sees the issue as Siebenaler's excuse for liberal social engineering.

"She says the way to attract (young people) is to have a countywide gay rights policy," Heimlich says. "My feeling is there are adequate protections in the Constitution and I don't support special rights."

Gambling on a morals campaign
It was fear of Heimlich using the issue in his campaign that led some human rights groups to postpone a repeal effort for Article 12 of the Cincinnati City Charter. Approved by voters in 1993 as Issue 3, the charter amendment bars city council from passing legislation guaranteeing equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Siebenaler knows the county commissioners can't change the city charter. But she believes the anti-gay amendment is wrong and it adversely affects the entire county.

"As a physician, I believe homosexuality is not a choice but that it's biologically inherited," she says.

Heimlich says the charter amendment is not the reason people are moving.

"I have not heard one person say, 'I'm leaving Westwood because of Issue 3,' " he says.

People are moving from the city because of crime and blight, according to Heimlich. He says the public is disgusted that city leaders don't support the police.

"They're going there for quiet, safe neighborhoods," he says.

What people want, Heimlich says, are good housing, good services and clean neighborhoods.

But he brings another G word into the conversation. Siebenaler, he points out, supports casino gambling in Ohio.

"I'm not sure turning Cincinnati into Atlantic City is going to bring families here," Heimlich says.

Legalizing casinos is something only the state can do, according to Siebenaler.

"I certainly don't want to build my county around casino gambling, but I don't see it as the deterioration of civil society as we know it," she says.

Many of her patients have talked about gambling on riverboats in Indiana for recreation, according to Siebenaler. Their money left Ohio with them.

Siebenaler says gambling in other forms is already taking place in Ohio, from church Bingo games to the state lottery.

"Why should we as a government say, 'No, we're not going to do that because we think we're contributing to you going to hell'?" she says. "That's government intruding on private decisions of people. What happened to the personal responsibility that we are always hearing about from the other party?"

Even the question of receiving funds from the state of Ohio becomes a kind of moral issue in Heimlich's hands.

Siebenaler proposes more active pursuit of state funds for local needs.

"We have a state legislature that's not urban friendly," she says. "We need more advocates from the local level to go up the chain and advocate for some of these local issues. We need the state legislators from our area to advocate for home health care for seniors."

But Heimlich says the county shouldn't be going to the state begging for money.

"That's what's called the 'entitlement mentality,' " he says.

He thinks the state spent too much during good times and, like local government, now has to cut back.

"What I say is why don't you try to live within your means without going out and asking somebody to bail you out," Heimlich says. "They're cutting back for the same reason the city is cutting back."

He believes the county has allowed itself to become too dependent on the state for funds. According to Heimlich, the state contributes 10 percent of the county's general fund.

"The county is like an addict that has to go cold turkey," he says. "Why is it that the families in this area have to tighten their belts but the government never can?"

Yes, it is brain surgery
The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office is the legal counsel for the county commissioners. Heimlich is a former assistant prosecutor.

Recent revelations about the death of Roger Owensby Jr. have convinced Siebenaler that former Cincinnati Police Officer Robert Jorg should be retried, she says (see Piling On, issue of Oct. 3-9). County Prosecutor Michael Allen, a Republican, dismissed a charge of involuntary manslaughter after a jury deadlocked.

"Jorg needs to be retried," Siebenaler says. "To me, that was it. It was so much information that people didn't have before. This was a huge revelation in my mind that pointed to the necessity in my heart to give these poor parents some justice."

Heimlich doesn't challenge Allen's decision not to retry the case, although he acknowledges misconduct was apparent.

"There is no question there has been evidence of police misconduct in the Owensby case," Heimlich says.

A jury acquitted Jorg of assault and deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal on the more serious charge.

"I can't question his decision not to retry," Heimlich says. "I'm not going to second guess him."

Heimlich says he finds it very difficult to believe the people he knows at the prosecutor's office would intentionally leave out witnesses important to the case. He says he worked for assistant prosecutors Mark Piepmeier and Thomas Longano, who prosecuted Jorg.

"I know these guys and I know they're professionals," Heimlich says. "I have seen them in action and they are excellent. I haven't seen Mike Allen shuffle the deck for political reasons."

But politics is exactly why Siebenaler worries about having Allen as the county commissioners' legal counsel.

"I'm concerned that too many opinions are politicized," she says. "The commissioners need to call for more special counsel."

Too often Allen gives the county commissioners information labeled "attorney/client privilege" and it can't be shared with the public, according to Siebenaler.

Sometimes, she says, outside expertise is helpful.

"It's kind of like asking family doctors to do neurosurgery," she says. ©

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